One way to help is to limit their exposure to violent TV shows, the news, and violent computer and video games. Most experts agree that the kids whose play is dominated by violence are those exposed to the most violent images. Another way to help is to watch TV with your kids and talk about what they see. Explain that in real life people get hurt when you hit them, shoot them, or drop pianos on their heads. Then answer their questions. This is a great time to offer your ideas about what's right and what's wrong.
The Lion & Lamb Project offers a full compilation of advice from the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and many others on how to talk about and protect kids from violence, violence in the media, and the marketing of violence to children. And Levin is founder of Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment, which publishes a list of toys to avoid.
When it comes to deciding whether to let your child have a big, loud, voice-enabled, laser gun, keep in mind that there's a big difference between making a gun from Legos and playing with a toy that does nothing but shoot, because when children play they aren't only working out what's bothering them. "Children also learn from their play," explains Levin. "Open-ended toys like blocks, stuffed toys, and dinosaurs can be used in many ways that the child controls. Highly structured toys (such as a cowboy's holster and guns) show children exactly how to play. These toys channel children into replicating violence—often the same violence they watch on TV. Some children get 'stuck' imitating instead of developing their own creative, imaginative, and beneficial play."
The combination of media violence and toys linked to violent characters takes much of the beneficial elements of childhood play away from kids. "Children end up imitating the violence rather than working it through," says Levin. "When that happens, the lessons are likely to be much more harmful."